[Okay. We’ve arrived. These are in no particular order, except for the actual best alb, which is last.]
new year (s/t) Just buy this. The opener, “Folios,” is almost too beautiful to be fully heard, but there you go…There’s something “pure” about this music. Yes, I know how stupid that sounds, but listen to this simple/smart Versailles packed out of melodic/dynamic sand. Here, you’re unthinkingly walking in on the Princess while she’s dressing. You’re finding baby Moses in the wicker basket among the reeds. You’re trying on some girl named Peggy’s soccer cleats. Is Chris Brokaw as good a drummer as he is a gtr player? How can you say ‘no’ when there are performances like these on analog tape? I have only heard one or two Bedhead songs that chilled me the same way this “sunny, chilly January” kind of alb has… but I’ll be doing some more excavating, becuz the Kadanes are expert at all the things that matter to my hair and ears.
neil halstead (oh! mighty engine) Any white-belted mash-up purveyor on myspace can tell you that making albums so self-evident as Halstead’s is not the sort of thing to get you patched into the year-end bestuv lists. It’s almost as if, shit, Halstead doesn’t care. This is gorgeous, breezy (but not ‘lite’) stuff from the former Slowdive fire-setter. It’s not as exploratory as his also awesome solo debut, but it’s better still for the weird richness that defines its rather skeletal acoustic gtr/shakers architecture. I don’t know whether this alb is best described as “lean” (like a swimmer) or “husky”(like a sea lion), but it’s really present despite all its subtlety. It just may take four listens for you to be all the way there for it, though. [shh….! don’t tell elvira but i got her this for xmas. ‘wonder if i’ll ever get to the damned post office.]
joan of arc (boo! human) First off, what’s your favorite breakup album? This one’s about as explicitly that as any alb ever. I found Everything All at Once semi-boring, and had become quite convinced that Make Believe had become the most important venue for Tim Kinsella, but it seems like there might be a few stutter-steps left in the long-maligned “Joan of Arc” franchise. Besides “9/11 2” being the funniest song title/vocal performance of the year, this album brandishes herky-jerky, teeny-weeny acoustic gtr runs and two or three actually very accessible, sad songwriter-songs. I don’t feel like listening to breakup albums right now, but when I do again, I’ll turn on Blood On the Tracks (the NY Sessions). Afterwards maybe I’ll rock Boo! Human in the car. The car!
make believe (going to the bone church) My favorite math-rock/punk rock/’emo’ record of the year. The title track/instrumental is smashing, “People Laughing” is the best “political punk rock song” of 2008, and “(I Can’t Understand) Satisfaction” features another top truism, “all porn is gay porn.” Sam Zurich’s impossible gtr playing outshines any Hella or Don Cab or Fucking Champ licks out there, for my money, and the Nate Kinsella Wurlitzer/Drumkit show is more than just a Believe it Or Not novelty. Bobby Burg plays the world’s unlikeliest slant/vamps, in a weirdly dub-y way. What a band! Have they broken up again?
prisonshake (dirty moons) “I’m only four tracks deep, but if nothing else, Prisonshake’s Dirty Moons is the best-sounding, big, fat, analog, goopy mother-effer I’ve heard since Shellac’s Excellent Italian Greyhound – and the thing is, i’m listening to the cds that came tucked in with the big, goopy 180-gram 2xlps… god knows what the vinyl experience’ll be like. (btw, the music is not shellac-ish in the least, tho maybe it shares a similar wanton “pigfuck” sensibility.” [full blurbage here] Seriously, do you have a “2000s gtr rock” shelf full of the few, bestuv-the-bestuv that genre? You need to slip this in there, next to the Silkworm (It’ll Be Cool), the Magnolia Electric Co. (s/t), the Walkmen (100 Miles Off), the Bottomless Pit (Hammer of the Gods). Robert Griffin and Doug Enkler are weird, original, veteran rock musicians from the USA. This double album is filthy and vast and horny and resinated. Where were you in 2008?
ryan adams & the cardinals (cardinology) “And that’s how we leave it. I can bitch all i want about everything about ryan adams that doesn’t directly relate to my listening to his songs… But when i’m listening i’m pretty enthralled and pretty forgiving of his trespasses. His sonics and his phonics and his sins are endlessly understandable to me. And his band’s tone is my favorite one. Again, not all great songwriters – let alone great singers – have necessarily always written good lyrics….So long as the Cardinals remain the irresistible rock guitar force that they are, and so long as ryan adams and neal casal keep wrapping their throats around each other like lovers wrap around their nude legs… Well, there’s no need for Ryan Adams to say anything “literary” or even “sonorous,” let alone “true” (sic). I mean, all Van Morrison does these days is scat, right?” [full review here.] A coupla-six weeks and I’ll say, yeah, I think it’s the best Cardinals record. And I think the Cardinals are the best thing Adams has done. Sadly, I am forever doomed to like Ryan Adams. Doesn’t that sound like the kind of fate assigned to characters out of Ovid, or the upper sections of the Inferno where Homer (and Ovid, come to think of it) hang out?
bob mould (district line) “i did such a job of keeping myself hermetically sealed off and safe from the 16/4 orgy that was techno’s era of blips that i am un-jaded when i hear mr. mould doing a 2008-ish, power-punk-joni-mitchell/cher thing. (seriously, this record plums deep autobiographical hieroglyphic territory under a disco ball moon.) i’ve avoided the vocoder and drum sequencer so well that i can talk optimistically about the possibility of combining ‘em with distorted guitars. hell, fripp did it.” [full splish-splash here.] Seriously. District Line joins Zen Arcade, Everything Falls Apart (and more), Copper Blue and Beaster among my 5 Mould albs I’d most like to be buried with/make out to/read a 33 and 1/3 book about.
walkmen (you and me) “what a depressing and great new walkmen alb!” “Pitchfork is right to name the “cavernous” guitar tone as a definitive Walkmen thing – as a long time believer in bass-y Fender tube tones, i must admit to wetting myself upon hearing the opening, muted gtr notes…” [more flanks here].It’s like Dylan, It’s like Fugazi, It’s like the Velvets, It’s like Faces… So sad, this album. It’s their Sister Lovers. A towering, sad, sad thing. Shimmering cave-guitar, throaty evocations of semi-cosmopolitan liqueurs, concrete-shattering drum-power and the concerted, collective semi-courage of a band sounding like a band.
david grubbs (an optimist notes the dusk) Like Mould, this is more of the music I’ll hear in my head when I think of 2008. (Oh, the mixtape I’m gonna make for you kids!) My favorite work from an all-time favorite songwriter. Opener “Gethsemani Nights,” to use an overused term, is haunting. As a kind of “haunted” person, myself, I see what could be my reflection in the long, romantic, lead run over the langurous horn – it’s one of the year’s most memorable “riffs,” but it’s also a bloody kite floating in the surf. Grubbs guitar sounds are actually sometimes images on this record. Seriously, this is a “monumental” record for its genre. And hell…if nobody notices, nobody notices. Grubbs seems to have a rather killer day job as it stands, and apparently doesn’t tour anywhere without ancient statuary. Is this “high modern” or “postmodern” music, by the way? Only academics would care, but, uh, yeah.
earles and jensen (just farr a laugh) ” Well, Earles and his equally adroit cohort Jensen have produced what has to be called the first truly ethnographic prank phone calls. The calls distinguish themselves as ethnographic practices to the extent that both Earles and Jensen’s many characters are receptive, attentive, and responsive to their interlocutors. In stark contrast to generic, stilted, pranks a la ‘Is Your Refrigerator Running?’ or ‘Do You Have Prince Albert in a Can?,’ Earles and Jensen actually create, uh, almost-conversations, in a way that sheds light on how well they know their characters. On a more formal level, I am more than pleased by the gaudy profanities, gaudy banalities and extended liner notes, all of which, again, evoke late-1980s, forced exposure aesthetics that i think are hotwired into my manboobs by now.. I try for all of those same vibes on this blog, it’s just that i’m nowhere near as intelligent or adept as these mothereffers, whose efforts and whose irony, like those of the Baffler or Doug Henwood or Scharpling, keeps me doing the very different things I do for a living.” [full previous rave here.] As I’ve laid on the line as plainly as is appropriate, lately my survival has more-than-usual hinged on being able to laugh my ass off. Of course this album helps with that, but it’s really way, way more. Honestly, I don’t know if Earles and Jensen could or should ever match this work… certainly it couldn’t be the same. But as they turn back towards “writing” and “The Jewish”-ing et. al., they can do so knowing that they have have not so much made an album as they have opened up a whole new universe, decorated it with trash and draped it with a really unlikely humanity and warmth. When I say that like Bleachy, and like all of us, they, too, have longed to watch Murder, She Wrote at an appliance store – it is only to say that they know what it feels like to want not to feel alone.It shows, however counterintuitively, even in the context of a prank phone call album. And the liner notes? They’re my favorite slab-slits of rock-write since the footnotes to the Chris Knox interview in you-know-what magazine. Just Farr a Laugh is the most important “literary novel” of post-war (any war) American life.